Pierce focused on all-around game vs. Knicks

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Pierce focused on all-around game vs. Knicks

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

WALTHAM The NBA announced on Monday that Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard was once again the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year award winner.

There were two Boston Celtics who finished among the top-five vote-getters for the award.

Paul Pierce wasn't one of them. (They were Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo.)

But if the Celtics are to get past the New York Knicks in the first round of the playoffs, chances are Pierce's defense on Carmelo Anthony will be a major factor.

Pierce, a prolific scorer in his own right, is essentially defending a bigger, stronger, younger version of himself in Anthony.

Boston escaped Game 1 with an 87-85 win, with some of the credit going to Pierce and the way he limited Anthony to 15 points -- about 10 points below his season average -- on 5-for-18 shooting from the field.

"A great player like Carmelo, you can't count on him shooting the ball the way he did Sunday night," said Pierce, who added, "We hope that he shoots like that again."

If Anthony does, chances are Pierce's defense will have something to do with it.

There's no doubt that Pierce's defense has picked up in recent years, by no means should it be confused with Bruce Bowen or any other highly regarded defensive player known for locking down players.

For Pierce, he uses his size, deceptively quick lateral movements and just plain ol' veteran savvy, to get the job done defensively.

But in this series, as important as it is to limit Anthony's effectiveness, the Celtics will need more than defensive stops from Pierce.

"For me, I have to be great on both sides of the ball," Pierce said. "That's the way I'm looking at this series. I have to be the scorer that the Celtics need me to be, and I have to be a defender. Because I'm guarding one of the premier players in the game. It's a lot of responsibility, but it's a responsibility I've been used to."

Rivers recalls how so much of the burden of carrying the team, fell on Pierce's shoulders during his early years.

"Early on, he had to do more than just score and defend," Rivers said. "He had to be the passer, he had to be the rebounder. My first two, three years with Paul, that was difficult. It is hard being the only guy. Everybody's double teaming you, but now he has other guys so that allows him to rest more."

Rivers sees Pierce's improved play defensively as another sign of his growth into an elite, all-around NBA superstar.

"You have to do them both," Rivers said. "It's part of basketball. It's offense and defense. It's not just one."

In Boston's Game 1 win, Pierce showed the ability to achieve success on both fronts in the game's closing moments.

Trailing 85-84 with about a minute to play, Pierce's defense on Anthony led to Anthony being whistled for an offensive foul with less than a minute to play.

Boston's Ray Allen nailed the game-winning shot with less than 12 seconds to play.

The pass to Allen for the game-winning shot came from Pierce.

"Ray's the hero with the shot; to me Paul's the hero with the pass," Rivers said moments after Sunday's Game 1 victory. "That's a great example of not playing hero basketball; just trusting what we drew up."

Pierce embraces the balancing act he has to perform for one reason -- he doesn't have a choice if the Celtics are going to have the kind of postseason they collectively envision.

"I have to be just as aggressive offensively, and I have to be even more aggressive defensively," Pierce said. "It's not going to be easy. Doc's always saying, 'winning isn't easy.' So that's what it is."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Young getting on floor more for Celtics, including key fourth-quarter stints

Young getting on floor more for Celtics, including key fourth-quarter stints

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. – For most of his life, basketball has come easy to James Young.
 
So, the idea that in training camp he wasn’t just fighting to get playing time but also to stay in the NBA, was a jarring eye-opener.
 
To Young’s credit, he rose to the challenge and beat out R.J. Hunter for the Celtics' final roster spot.
 
And while Young’s playing time has been sporadic, he has done a much better job of maximizing his opportunities.
 
So, as the Celtics roll into Detroit to face the Pistons, Young finds himself playing his best basketball as a pro, good enough to make coach Brad Stevens not hesitate to put him in the game in the fourth quarter of a close matchup.
 
“It’s exciting to come back home,” Young, who grew up in nearby Rochester Hills, Mich., told CSNNE.com. “A lot of my family will be there. I’m not thinking about me. I’m just trying to do what I can to help the team.”
 
And lately, he’s getting an opportunity to do just that beyond being someone who helps in practice.
 
We saw that in the 107-97 loss at Toronto on Friday. Young came off the bench to play four minutes, 36 seconds in the fourth quarter with only two other Celtics reserves, Marcus Smart (8:39) and Jonas Jerebko (5:10) seeing more action down the stretch.
 
“It means a lot,” Young said. “He’s starting to trust me a little bit more. That’s a good thing. I’m just trying to do little things; rebound, get defensive stops and score when I get a chance.”
 
The fact that his scoring is just starting to take shape helps shed some light on why he has been buried so deep on the Celtics bench.
 
For his first couple seasons, Young seemed a hesitant shooter physically overwhelmed by opponents too strong for him to defend as well as too physical for him to limit their effectiveness.
 
But this season, he has done a better job at holding his own as a defender while making himself an available scoring option who can play off his teammates.
 
Young is averaging just 2.9 points per game this season, but he’s shooting a career-high 48.9 percent from the field and 41.7 percent on 3’s, which is also a career-high.
 
Getting on the floor more often has in many ways provided yet another boost of confidence to Young.
 
“I’m getting used to the flow of the game playing more consistently,” Young said. “I know what to do. It’s slowing up a little more and it’s getting easier.”
 

Blakely: Raptors newcomers show Celtics what they're missing

Blakely: Raptors newcomers show Celtics what they're missing

TORONTO – It’s far too soon to say if the Celtics’ decision to stand pat at the trade deadline was a mistake.
 
But the early returns aren’t encouraging.
 
Their 107-97 loss Friday night to the Toronto Raptors wasn’t because of Kyle Lowry (right wrist), who didn’t even play, or DeMar DeRozan, who played out his mind while scoring a career-high 43 points.
 
The game will be remembered by the new guys Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, both acquired at the trade deadline by the Raptors.
 
Ibaka, who was a bad fit, and on most nights a bad player, in Orlando, looked like the O-K-C Ibaka while scoring 15 points to go with seven rebounds against the Celtics – numbers that were better than his two games combined against the Celtics this season with the Magic when he scored a total of just 12 points while grabbing eight rebounds.
 
And then there was Tucker, who got a crash video course on Raptors playbook just hours before the game, and proceeded to show the kind of toughness at both ends of the floor that has made him one of the league’s more underrated defenders as he finished with a near double-double of nine points and 10 rebounds.
 
It was their first game with their new team, but you would have thought they had been with Toronto all season long with how seamless they seemed to fit in.
 
Ibaka draining jumpers, Tucker causing chaos defensively, while absolutely crushing the Celtics on the boards...their play was a painful reminder of what could have been for the Green team.
 
Both were rumored to have been in the Celtics’ crosshairs prior to the Thursday 3 p.m. trade deadline. The Celtics were lukewarm at best on Ibaka (they didn’t want what would have been a 25-game rental) and just couldn’t quite strike a deal and cross the finish line for Tucker.
 
It’s too soon to hit the panic button and rip Danny Ainge for not getting a minor deal done like adding Tucker or Ibaka.
 
Still, his players have to embrace the truth behind what transpired this trade season.
 
Ainge went big-game hunting, focusing most of the team's efforts on landing a major difference-maker, a la Jimmy Butler or Paul George.
 
When that didn’t work out, he settled for the next best thing, which was to keep this group together.
 
The onus is now on them to prove that trust Ainge has in them, was well-placed.
 
Putting too much stock in the first game after the break is a risky proposition that no one should subscribe to.
 
But in the loss, it revealed many of the concerns and weaknesses of this roster that tend to get magnified in defeat while glossed over when they manage to win despite those flaws.
 
Isaiah Thomas may be the best scorer in the fourth quarter, but he’s human.
 
There will be games when Mr. Fourth Quarter can’t get it done.
 
Friday night was that kind of game for him. He scored just four of his team-high 20 points in the fourth.
 
And as the Raptors blitzed him repeatedly with two and three defenders, his teammates failed to step up when the opportunity was there to make impactful, game-altering plays down the stretch.
 
Watching the Celtics’ defense in the second half was painful.
 
DeRozan got whatever he wanted, when he wanted it.
 
And when he missed, the Raptors controlled the boards, got all the 50/50 balls and repeatedly out-worked Boston.
 
It exposed Boston in a way that’s painful to see, especially when those inflicting the greatest amount of damage could have been in the Celtics huddle and not the one on the other sideline.